Mark Organ has been revolutionizing the B2B marketing space for 15 years, first as the founder and CEO of Eloqua, the world leader in marketing automation software, which was acquired by Oracle for $871 million, and more recently as the founder and CEO of advocate marketing pioneer Influitive. Organ recently sat down with us to talk about his path to becoming an entrepreneur — a journey that began with a degree in neuroscience and included a stop at Bain & Company — and the challenges founders face in creating new categories, knowing when to pivot, attracting great team members, and empowering customer advocates.
“We took thought leadership very, very seriously at Eloqua. As part of being a category creator, you lead as much or even more so with your ideas than you do with your technology.”
— Mark Organ, Founder of Eloqua and Influitive
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On knowing when to pivot
- Don’t get married to your initial findings: Before it was a pioneer in marketing automation, Eloqua actually started out as a chatting tool aimed at the FIRE sectors (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate), primarily because that’s where they achieved initial traction. What Organ and his team discovered, however, was that the real interest wasn’t in chatting, but the ability to track, manage, and engage with leads.
- Data doesn’t lie (and sometimes the truth hurts): The key to discovering your true product/market fit is to formulate a hypothesis, be very narrow in terms of your focus, and to be very honest with the results, be they good or bad. In the case of Eloqua, once Organ determined the prime use case was managing leads and saw that the initial traction with FIRE demographic wasn’t panning out, they quickly decided to change course and start targeting a market where that need was very high — essentially, technology companies like themselves.
- Once you have your answers, be quick to act: Eloqua wasted no time in pivoting. It was able to shift gears in six months.
- Don’t let your ego get in the way: Sometimes your hunches will pay off, other times they won’t. The important thing is being humble enough to admit when you’re wrong and move forward accordingly.
On the qualities of successful founders
“Investors love to talk about metrics, but at the end of the day, people make decisions based on people.”
- Why ego is a double-edged sword: On one hand, founders really have to be the type of person who is motivated to surround yourself with amazing people and be a true servant leader. On the other hand, you also need to have the confidence to set out and do things others aren’t.
- Founders need to be driven by curiosity: There are five questions you should always be asking yourself: why, why, why, why, why?
- Being charming is important (and there’s a recipe for it): You need to attract the best people, and the best people are attracted by honesty, work ethic, transparency, and authenticity.
On creating a category
“The category is really not so much created by a marketing department…the category is actually created by your customers and users, themselves.”
- The importance of thought leadership: Companies attempting to create a new category don’t just have to sell, they also have to educate. Eloqua made thought leadership a top priority, scheduling regular Intellectual Capital Development Meetings, and producing top notch whitepapers that are still being referenced and circulated today.
- Elevate your champions to superstar status: Organ quickly came to appreciate the power of early advocates and adopters in helping to establish and validate a category. To celebrate these crucial champions and encourage even more engagement, the Eloqua team launched the Markies, a take on the Oscars celebrating excellence in marketing. The first event, hosted in 2007, was a huge hit, and it helped further establish Eloqua as a brand at the forefront of supporting and enabling cutting-edge marketing.
- Be ready to raise and expand quickly: Again, you need to take a completely honest look at the data and feedback you’re receiving, but once there are signs that you’ve hit an inflection point and the market is really clicking you need to be ready to capitalize. B2B software is a bit of a winner-take-all game, with the top two or three products often taking the majority of the market, so it may make sense to raise funding to expand quickly.
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